Whistle-blowers conjure up images of trench coats and rainy nights. In reality, most whistle-blowing activity is reported online through a government website. Federal and California law provide a litany of protections for whistle-blowers to encourage them to come forward. Whistle blowing is a useful check on businesses and governments placing profits over people or the law.
Federal whistle-blower protections are spread across several different laws, but the short of it is that you are protected from retaliation by your employer if you have a good faith belief that the employer is violating the law, and you must notify the authorities. A good faith belief is one in which you honestly and reasonably believe it is happening. You must also believe that an internal report is insufficient either because it goes all the way to the top, or you have already tried before. Most of these protections are for environmental violations that endanger the public or wildlife. These protections stand, even if during post investigation, the employer was found to be compliant.
California whistle-blower protections go further than federal law. California also protects whistle-blowers of both public and private entities. Not all states provide protections against reporting a private entity. The protections extend to internal reports, or reporting “up,” and external reports to the police or public agencies. California further extended protections to anyone who is acting on behalf of the employer. This means that if you are a third party contractor, you are also protected from retaliation.
If you become the victim of employer retaliation, then you are entitled to compensation for the harm you suffered. Typically, this includes lost wages and even damages to reputation. Reputation damages are a slightly more complicated issue to establish, but it entails your employer bad-mouthing you around town. You may also sue for reinstatement. However, this presents additional issues. For example, it is a little awkward to take a job at a company you reported for violating the law. It is likely some people were fired as a result. It probably isn’t the most inviting place to work now.
If you believe you have been retaliated against for whistle-blowing, then consulting an attorney can help you clarify your rights. You did the right thing; let an attorney handle the rest.